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|Blank Cartridges||Ian Hay|
And Some Fell By The Wayside
|Page 4 of 6||
"This man, sirr, is liable to get over-excited when addressed by an officer."
"Now, Jimmy, tell the officer what would ye dae in case of fire?"
"Present airrms!" announces the desperate James. Or else, almost tearfully, "I canna mind. I had it all fine just noo, but it's awa' oot o' ma heid!"
Therefore it was with no great sense of anticipation that the orderly officer said to Private Carmichael,--
"Now, sentry, can you repeat any of your duties?"
Peter saluted, took a full breath, closed both eyes, and replied rapidly,--
"For tae tak' chairge of all Government property within sicht of this guairdhoose tae turrn out the guaird for all arrmed pairties approaching also the commanding officer once a day tae salute all officers tae challenge all pairsons approaching this post tae--"
His recital was interrupted by a fit of coughing.
"Thank you," said the officer hastily; "that will do. Good night!"
Peter, not sure whether it would be correct to say "good night" too, saluted again, and returned to his cough.
"I say," said the officer, turning back, "you have a shocking cold."
"Och, never heed it, sirr," gasped Peter politely.
"Call the sergeant," said the officer.
The fat sergeant came out of the guardhouse again, buttoning his tunic.
"Take this man off sentry-duty and roast him at the guard-room fire."
"I will, sirr," replied the sergeant; and added paternally, "this man has no right for to be here at all. He should have reported sick when warned for guard; but he would not. He is very attentive to his duties, sirr."
"Good boy!" said the officer to Peter. "I wish we had more like you."
Wee Pe'er blushed, his teeth momentarily ceased chattering, his heart swelled. Appearances to the contrary, he felt warm all through. The sergeant laid a fatherly hand upon his shoulder.
"Go you your ways intil the guard-room, boy," he commanded, "and send oot Dunshie. He'll no hurt. Get close in ahint the stove, or you'll be for Cambridge!"
(The last phrase carries no academic significance. It simply means that you are likely to become an inmate of the great Cambridge Hospital at Aldershot.)
Peter, feeling thoroughly disgraced, cast an appealing look at the officer.
"In you go!" said that martinet.
Peter silently obeyed. It was the only time in his life that he ever felt mutinous.
A month later Brigade Training set in with customary severity. The life of company officers became a burden. They spent hours in thick woods with their followers, taking cover, ostensibly from the enemy, in reality from brigade-majors and staff officers. A subaltern never tied his platoon in a knot but a general came trotting round the corner. The wet weather had ceased, and a biting east wind reigned in its stead.
On one occasion an elaborate night operation was arranged. Four battalions were to assemble at a given point five miles from camp, and then advance in column across country by the light of the stars to a position indicated on the map, where they were to deploy and dig themselves in! It sounded simple enough in operation orders; but when you try to move four thousand troops--even well-trained troops--across three miles of broken country on a pitch-dark night, there is always a possibility that some one will get mislaid. On this particular occasion a whole battalion lost itself without any delay or difficulty whatsoever. The other three were compelled to wait for two hours and a half, stamping their feet and blowing on their fingers, while overheated staff officers scoured the country for the truants. They were discovered at last waiting virtuously at the wrong rendezvous, three-quarters of a mile away. The brazen-hatted strategist who drew up the operation orders had given the point of assembly for the brigade as: ... the field S.W. of WELLINGTON WOOD and due E. of HANGMAN'S COPSE, immediately below the first O in GHOSTLY BOTTOM,--but omitted to underline the O indicated. The result was that three battalion commanders assembled at the O in "ghostly," while the fourth, ignoring the adjective in favour of the noun, took up his station at the first O in "bottom."
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